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Sex Pistols back again

John Robb predicts a rip it up, tear-away evening at the MEN with the original bad boys

Published on November 9th 2007.

Sex Pistols back again


Snarls the singer as the band lurches unevenly behind him, his amphetamine eyes stare at the camera burning a hole into the consciousness of the huddled youth sat round North West England staring furiously at their flickering black and white TV sets.

If you want to see one of the greatest ever British rock'n'roll bands playing a clutch of anthems then you will be in for a killer night

It's autumn 1976 and it's Tony Wilson’s superb So It Goes, a regional arts programme based in Manchester and the Sex Pistols are doing their first TV appearance.

This is culture shock.

The band look amazing, sharp ripped threads, total attitude and danger - just what a rock'n'roll band should be. The music is raw and thrilling and the song ‘Anarchy In the UK’ is a new national anthem…and it's not even been released yet. The Pistols are a cult band, not even signed to a record label, and our Tony has been hip enough to get them on the TV when no-one in London was on the case.

Fast forward 31 years and the band are back playing the MEN Arena on Saturday November 17th, and the music scene, like Manchester, is unrecognisable from what it was then.

The arguments against them reforming are of course fierce, many point out that Punk was about going forwards. They forget that Punk was also the most documented and self-referential music genre in history.

So if you expect the Pistols to be a Situationist art-rock experience hitting the stage with revolutionary rhetoric then you will be badly let down, but, if you want to see one of the greatest ever British rock'n'roll bands playing a clutch of anthems then you will be in for a killer night. Add to that Johnny 'the celebrity that got of here' Rotten’s sarcastic asides between the songs and you’re gonna get some foul breathed very British entertainment.

Since their messy implosion in 1978 the band have reformed a couple of times. The first time at Finsbury Park and they were amazing - a righteous rock’n’roll racket. The second time at Crystal Palace they seemed bored and listless.This time? Who knows? The smart money is on the Pistols delivering great shows.

Manchester, after all, plays a very important part in the Pistols' story. The band’s two gigs in the summer of 1976 at the Lesser Free Trade Hall have become famous for kick-starting the whole Manchester scene. Several of the handful of people that turned up for the shows went on to have landmark musical careers in the Manchester scene from Joy Division to the Smiths to Factory Records. The Buzzcocks put the shows on and were pivotal in making Manchester a world famous music city.

In fact Manchester was the second city of punk, and the first city outside London, to have a punk scene. The Pistols were a big part of it, the two Free Trade Hall gigs were two of their favourite shows, and the now demolished Tommy Ducks pub, was a favourite of Johnny Rotten’s.

The December 1976 Anarchy in The UKtour which was cancelled across the UK by nervous councils saw only a handful of shows go ahead - one of which was at Manchester’s Electric Circus, not only that but an additional date was added at the Circus for the band with nowhere to go.

Those far off gigs in the mists of the mid severities played out in front of a clutch of fresh-faced teenagers hip to the new punk scene (including a thrilled Mick Hucknall - at the front of every punk show in Manchester) are a very different affair to the reformed Pistols. Yet, in many ways, the new millennium version sounds just as powerful, they still retain a dangerous edge despite the fact that they live in a totally different world from their teenage selves.

John Lydon lives in posh part of LA, guitarist Steve Jones is a brilliant and anarchic DJ in the same city, bassist Glen Matlock still does the circuit in the UK, and drummer Paul Cook occasionally pops up on the drums on some project or other. Put them together and the tension remains, they still don’t get on but that only adds to the music's thrilling power.

The MEN gig will see the Pistols tear the joint up, all that talk about them not being able to play will be thrown into the pit along with so many other dumb myths about Punk. The gig will be one of rowdiest, messiest and exciting this year.

The band members may be 50 years old but the Pistols are still a brilliant beery belch in the face of the karaoke record industry and its obsession with reality TV pop shows and too cool indie plodders. For that reason alone you have to celebrate their obstinate and occasional returns.

For one night and one night only we’re gonna have some real anarchy in the UK.

JOHN ROBB is the author of the definitive history of punk rock Punk Rock: An Oral History.

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6 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

NigelNovember 9th 2007.

Im not old. what sort of argument is that?

billNovember 9th 2007.

the Sex Pistols ruined music.Before punk music was at its most advanced state ever and punk made it go backwards

wayneNovember 9th 2007.

After the Courteener's debate I wondered what rants we'd get on this. Seems Manchester Confidential has lots of readers in old people's homes as well.

Saint SidNovember 9th 2007.

anyone else going!

NigelNovember 9th 2007.

I agree with the two gentlemen. Music was at its best with Yes and Genisis. Complex inteligent music made by men who were like the classical composers of their time. Punk ruined everything. After punk there have been too few talents, too many woemn, not enough musical geniuses. Same goes for Manchester. modern Manchester music is terible. The best era was the mid sevnties with the amazingly talneted 10CC and Sad Cafe. modern bands like the Stone Roses are derivative and weak.

bobNovember 9th 2007.

i 100% agree, unfortunately the music industry is run by punk rejects who sign anyone who makes a racket.

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